VILLAS IN SICILY
Sicily’s position as part meeting point of Mediterranean cultures means a cosmopolitan offer of relaxation and cultural delights.
Sicily villa holiday guide
Few Mediterranean islands have as much variety, packed as tightly, as Sicily. By day, leave your Sicily villa to take in some culture with a tour of the Ancient Greek temples at Agrigento or the baroque architecture of UNESCO-protected Noto. After dark, dine al fresco on the seafront at Trapani or party until late in Palermo’s Kalsa district. And like everywhere else in Italy, food and drink are part of the Sicilian way of life: olives, wine grapes, citrus fruits—and visitors—all thrive in Italy’s longest summer.
For the buzz, head to Palermo, the capital and Italy’s fifth-largest city. Part art-and-architecture showcase, part meeting point of Mediterranean cultures, and these days a wholly fashionable, cosmopolitan city. It is here and in Catania, on the island’s east coast, where you’ll find the liveliest nightlife and the best shopping. Smaller Siracusa, in the south-east, has a more laid-back tempo. Nowhere has a backdrop to the evening passeggiata quite like Siracusa’s theatrical Piazza del Duomo.
Italy’s traditional divides—between rich and poor, city and country, noble and peasant— endured longer in Sicily than almost anywhere else. The countryside was shaped by the hard rural lives of the small holder. Citrus groves, farms, and wine estates occupy rolling, dry countryside that covers much of the island. Nature can still call the shots, too: Mount Etna, on the island’s east, is Europe’s tallest active volcano, at 3,329m.
Explore Sicily's history
Pretty much any power who ever had a navy invaded Sicily at some point. The Greeks left temples at Agrigento, Segesta, and Selinunte—and mathematician Archimedes was from Siracusa. You’ll see evidence of Roman occupation in the intricate mosaics of the Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina. The Arabs and Normans both ruled from Palermo, where the Palazzo dei Normanni shows the influence of both. The mosaics of the Cappella Palatina, and at Monreale, are classic Byzantine Christian, dating from the 12th century.
Shopping in Sicily
Palermo’s open-air, medieval superstores, the Vucciria and Ballarò markets, are teeming with tradesmen, hawkers, and stallholders selling everything from local lemons to Barbie dolls—these are souks with a Sicilian accent. Elsewhere in Palermo, and also in Catania, you’ll find boutiques stocking designer labels from Rome, Milan and further afield. Traditional rural crafts to look out for include majolica and ceramics—Caltagirone, inland from Catania and Siracusa, is the island’s majolica capital.
Eating and drinking in Sicily
Sicilians have a famously sweet tooth, and the island’s pastry shops often have eye-catching window displays. Cannoli (cream-filled crispy pastries) originally hail from Sicily, and islanders also claim to be the original inventors of gelato (Italian ice-cream). Traditional savoury snacks include arancini (fried and filled rice balls) and the offal-based street food sold in Palermo’s markets. The fortified, sherry-like wines of Marsala are famous internationally, but in Sicily itself you’re more likely to be sipping a red Nero d’Avola or a white Moscato.
Sicily's arts and culture
The island’s turbulent history is reflected in its architecture. Palermo’s Arab-Norman-Byzantine melting pot is on proud display at the Palazzo dei Normanni and the cathedral at Monreale. Giacomo Serpotta’s stucco oratories in Palermo also hint at the baroque riches found elsewhere on the island: Noto was completely rebuilt in the early 1700s after a devastating earthquake, and is perhaps the most complete baroque town in Italy. Nearby Siracusa and Modica were remodelled in the florid baroque style around the same time.
Active pursuits in Sicily
Choose Catania or the nearby coastal town of Riposto as the jumping-off point for one of Italy’s great outdoor adventures: climbing Mount Etna. For a gentler adventure, explore the Aeolian Islands by motorboat—Milazzo is the place to head to set sail. Alternatively, take a good map and plenty of local knowledge to hike the coastal paths, or one of the many trails through Sicily’s vineyards and citrus groves—just remember to take plenty of water. Modica lies on approximately the same latitude as Tunis, for example, and daytime temperatures usually go well above 30C in the summer.
When the sun climbs high overhead, Sicilians hit the beaches. Highlight of the north coast is laid-back Cefalù, and Trapani, west of Palermo, is an easy drive from the photogenic sands at San Vito lo Capo. The wow-factor goes up a notch at the beaches south of Siracusa and on the quiet coastline close to Modica. Ports such as Licata and Trapani provide a more bustling take on Sicilian coastal life, and are great places to dine on seaside ingredients like riccio (sea anemone). Elegant Taormina has been a resort for over a century, and has an Amalfi-like perch overlooking the Ionian Sea.